This article was updated at 1100 KST on Wednesday to include more comments from Vladimir Baranov, Director General of InvestStroiTrest.
A cruise route connecting Vladivostok and the North Korean port of Rajin has reportedly been halted due to a local legal dispute, the Russian operator of the Mangyongbong ferry line told NK News on Tuesday.
“Our company was forced to suspend regular routes between Vladivostok and Rajin, due to illegal actions of a private Russian company,” Vladimir Baranov, Director General of InvestStroiTrest, said in an email.
Despite reports suggesting the service halt was due to a lack of profitability of the business, Baranov said a legal dispute with an unnamed Russian port managing company had caused the suspension.
According to Baranov, the private company rents berth 1 and 2 from Russian authorities to moor passenger vessels in the port of Vladivostok, and local law prohibits the Mangyongbong from being docked anywhere else.
Baranov also said that public interest in the route remained high.
“Demand from tourists from Russian and other countries, as well as the transportation of goods, is rapidly increasing,” he said.
“[Our] company plans the year-round operation of the vessel between the ports of Vladivostok and Rajin,” he added, saying his company was considering opening a new route to the Wonsan.
One Western tour guide told NK News that expanding operations to the eastern port would “be very good tourism wise.”
“Currently it’s impossible to reach either city directly so this will open up newer and more exciting tours,” Rowan Beard from the Young Pioneer Tours agency said.
North Korean outlet KCNA on May 17 reported that the route “would be operated by common efforts.”
According to a trip report released last Thursday by the U.S.-based Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI), the ferry line provides a weekly passenger and cargo service as “the only regular international ferry service to North Korea.”
But despite last week’s trip report and InvestStroiTrest’s claims that interest is growing, the service has run into technical, demand, and financial issues since its inception.
Inspection records collated by the NK Pro ship tracker showed in July that the ship had 34 safety deficiencies when first inspected in Vladivostok on May 25, one week after completing its first round trip.
And according to Russian outlet Interfax, the ferry has only transported 350 people since May 17, despite its capacity of 193, suggesting that the demand has been low.
InvestStroiTrest told Kyodo News that authorities had denied the ship entry to Vladivostok port in August as the shipping firm could not pay the 1 million rubles (USD$17,000) docking fee.
“Mangyongbong ferry’s docking fee for the port of Vladivostok is USD$5,600 and for the port of Rajin, it’s USD$900,” Baranov told NK News on Wednesday, in his additional email.
“Currently, Mangyongbong is waiting in the port of Rajin,” he added.
The vessel last broadcast its destination near Vladivostok on August 27, according to the NK Pro ship tracker.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
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Featured Image: Tourist hotel, Rajin by caitriana on 2015-10-05 18:00:43